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How to use the Eisenhower Matrix

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

Have you ever felt so stressed because of your to-do list that you would wake up in the middle of the night panicking?

I have. I would worry about having enough time to approve payroll, making a client deadline, and wondering how I was going to take the baby to the doctors for what may be another earache.

I would wake up exhausted and deflated before the day had even begun.

I was drowning and could not see the end of the tunnel. If this sounds like you, then know I am sending hugs. You are not alone. There is hope and step by step, you can rescue yourself too.

When I am crazy busy and can't see straight, I rely on the Eisenhower Matrix. It sounds complicated, but I promise you it is not.

How to Use the Eisenhower Matrix

Step One

Make a list of every single task that you need to do. Write everything out: checking emails, playing with the kiddos, designing your business card, going to the gym, etc.

Step Two

Draw a box or print the Eisenhower Matrix that we provided.

Step Three

Ask yourself the following four questions and start to sort your task list into the box.

Question 1

As you review your task list one item at a time, ask yourself the following questions and if your answer is “Yes”, then put it in the IMPORTANT | URGENT BOX.

Does this support my Priorities? Will this task make me healthier? Is this project due in the next 24 hours?

This box is filled with time-sensitive tasks that are overdue or due soon. (Your Goal is to have this box filled with only learning new skills and tasks that will add value to your life or allows you to stay true to your priorities.)

Question 2

Second down the list ask yourself the following questions and if the answer is “Yes” then put it in the IMPORTANT | NOT URGENT BOX.

Is this project due in the next week? Does this task bring me closer to my Goals? Will this task make me happy now or in the future?

You will want to schedule time in your calendar to work on these tasks. I once read that this is the box we should be using, and I agree with that 110%. This box is filled with tasks that have upcoming due dates and helps support your priorities and goals.

Question 3

The third time down the list ask yourself the following questions and if the answer is “Yes” then put it in the LESS IMPORTANT | URGENT BOX.

Is this project due in the next week? Can someone else take care of this task? Can you automate this task so you won't have to do it again? Is this a life maintenance task, "laundry, dishes, cooking dinner." Delegating and asking for help is the hardest thing for me; I don't want to impose on other people, but for me to do what I need, I sometimes have to. I wish someone had told this to me, so I want to share this secret. EVERYONE needs help. For some that support comes in the form of in-laws and family, for others that help comes from house cleaners and nannies. You are not less of a person; your achievement does not mean less if you asked and received support.

Question 4

Fourth time down the list, what's left? You are busy, so I won't even pretend that watching tv or playing video games was on your list (google Eisenhower Matrix, I kid you not, it’s almost a must to put those two examples down!) All joking aside, what is left? What would happen if you did not do those tasks? I know, I know scary, but what if! Think of the freedom you could have if this was your do NOT list! If you are not ready to delete these tasks then put them in the NOT URGENT | NOT IMPORTANT maybe in a few rounds you will be prepared to delete them.

Step Four*

This step if for my friends out there who’s IMPORTANT| URGENT is still overwhelmingly long. With practice and consistency, we will get to the point that this will not happen (as often). But when you are in this place, here is what you do:

1. Quick, you can only do one thing today. What is it? Now put a #1 next to it.

2. What if you can only do three things today? Markdown #2 & #3.

3. Keep going until you’re done.

* (for my working mama's out there, did you ever have that inkling that your baby may not be feeling well? They still don't have a fever, but it's just a mama's intuition… I would play this game with my list, knowing that any moment I may get the "call").

You have a plan; now it's time to take action!

This is a note to the overwhelmed mother, the overloaded student, or the under-appreciated assistant. You are strong enough to make it through your task list; you are smart enough to find a solution to a circumstance that you don't like. You have the POWER to make the change, and there is light at the end of the tunnel. You have taken the first step!

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